Minnesota women use art to bring awareness to Synesthesia

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Sarah Kraning, 30, of St. Paul, always knew she saw the world a little differently than most.

She’s a local artist and painting has been her passion since she was a child. But she doesn’t paint just anything – she paints the colors she sees in her mind.

Kraning has Synesthesia, which is a neurological cross-wiring of the senses. When she hears sounds, she also sees color.

“Specifically, I have a type of synesthesia called Chroma-Synesthesia, which means when I hear sounds I experience them as colors and movement and patterns,” Kraning explains.

She’s had Synesthesia her whole life, but as a child her peers made fun of her for it, so she never talked about it. She only recently began sharing about her ability as an adult.

“I started sharing my paintings on TikTok. It got seen by more people than I expected and kind of took off,” Kraning said.

She says being able to share her art has been almost therapeutic for her.

“I thought I would go my whole life without being able to share this part of my world and I thought it was too weird to share with other people, so the fact that I can share it and it’s accepted, it just feels like I’m fully able to be myself honestly for the first time in my life.”

Kraning’s paintings caught the attention of local playwright, Claudia Haas.

“I wanted to write about Synesthesia for at least 10 years,” Haas said. Despite knowing Sarah for years, Haas never knew she saw the world in this way.  

Haas taught youth theater for 25 years and along the way, she met Sarah as a child.

“I absolutely remember meeting Sarah. She was nine. She was in a summer program and she had a lot of questions,” Haas said. Sarah acted in youth theater at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisc. and Haas was her favorite director.

Over the years, the two kept in touch and when Haas learned about Kraning’s Synesthesia, she asked her if she wanted to write a play together about her experience.

“I’ve learned so much from her. It was a dream to work with this wonderful, incredible director and to see her process,” Kraning said.

They spent a year writing the script, which was chosen to be a part of a prestigious workshop at New York University. Kraning and Haas spent a week in New York perfecting the play with professionals at NYU. The play, called Soundscapes, is centered around a young girl and her experience with Synesthesia.

“All I did was have her tell me stories and I would write down the stories and turn them into scenes,” Haas said, “We devised a color chorus and so the color chorus would physically do on stage what the character was seeing in her mind.”

“My hope is everyone is that it reaches everyone, the public, people with neurodiversity, people without,” Haas said.

Just this month, the play was professionally published and can now be performed in youth theaters across the country. A high school in Ohio is already performing the show, and Haas and Kraning hope others pick it up as well.

“And that a lot of people feel seen, whether or not they have neurodiversity or not, that they just feel seen,” Kraning added.